Hours before the biggest gymnastics meet of her junior season, Johanna Sasser and five of her teammates laid in a beanbag chair while inside of a locker room within the bowels of Buford Arena.

They prepared for the biggest meet of their seasons attempting to finish off a three-peat of state championships. Sasser had an intravenous needle in her arm to cap off a day she’d never imagined. 

“This literally cannot be happening,” Sasser thought to herself. 

That morning, the junior woke up with food poisoning. She’d eaten a plate of spinach manicotti the night prior at a team dinner, and she figured that might’ve been the culprit. She had a day full of sharp stomach pains and vomiting. 

At times, she thought competing – or even attending – the GHSA 6A-7A championships in her home arena might be a long shot. 

Courtesy of Claudia Sasser

Sasser valiantly recovered in a Michael Jordan-esque story that will never be forgotten in Buford gymnastics’ lore for years to come. She competed as an all-around athlete, scoring a 9.700 or higher on three-of-four events and finished off the meet on floor to cap off Buford’s third title in head coach Tyler Ann Smith’s three seasons with a score of 110.250 to eke past North Forsyth (110.025). 

“I’m incredibly proud of her determination – which sometimes is plain stubbornness – and grit,” Johanna Sasser’s mother, Claudia Sasser, said. “That’s not something you can really teach someone.”

Johanna hasn’t had many things go her way throughout the first three seasons of her high-school competing career. She suffered an avulsion fracture in her elbow as a freshman which caused her to miss the entire season. Then, after a few meets as a sophomore, doctors diagnosed Johanna with mild rotatory scoliosis which caused her to miss the remainder of the year. Her family urged her to quit gymnastics after the back injury due to the toll sport takes on an athlete’s body, but she wouldn’t stop.

Johanna, in addition to competing for the high school, is also a gymnast for the Gymnastix Training Center club team. She hasn’t yet committed to a college but recently had a call with Illinois and will attend a recruiting camp over the upcoming summer. She had plans to compete in the upcoming club nationals tournament, however, only the top-seven athletes get to move on. She finished eighth in regionals and will be the top alternate.

So, on that April 19 day that is expected to be full of excitement, Johanna told her mother, a teammate and Smith of her ailments. They all freaked out a bit given that Buford prepared to have her as the anchor as another gymnast suffered an injury prior to the preliminaries and would be out for the state meet. 

“I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to compete,” Johanna said. 

Claudia knew her daughter had a sensitive stomach, so she didn’t think too much into it early on. Once Johanna arrived at Buford High School, however, she had to be checked out so her father could take her to the pediatrician for medicine. She received a prescription that provided significant relief, but still wasn’t comfortable to compete.

Luckily for the Sasser family, teammate Bella Rae Newby had a close connection. Her mother, Dariane Newby, owns the Revive IV Lounge near the Mall of Georgia. She went to her bar and conjured a magic cocktail with Zofran – an anti-nausea medicine – and a mix of components to help replace the fluids Johanna had lost. 

Suddenly, everything changed. 

“She had a complete pendulum swing,” Smith said. 

Courtesy of Claudia Sasser

Johanna felt immensely better with the IV transfusion, yet remained nervous that she would get sick during the meet. She doesn’t know “what I would’ve done without it,” she said regarding Newby’s heroics. 

Johanna did have belief, however. She shifted her focus to the end result, and a day loaded with adverse moments turned into one with jubilation. She led her team to the unthinkable of three-straight titles, and the Wolves continued the streak of victories within their division under Smith. 

By night’s end, the needles, stomach pains and IV bags were gone. Only a trophy remained. 

“We raised her to not be afraid, not make excuses and keep fighting,” Claudia said. “We weren’t going to let this take her down.”

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